The Role of Food in Chronic Pain

5650486605_f38434c896_zI recorded this interview a couple of months ago, and re-listening to it now it still gives me chills. And gets me all welled up with tears. As a part of my "Let Freedom Ring" series, where I talk with people who have recovered from chronic pain and mobility conditions, I had the great honor of talking with Curt Chaffee. Curt is a patient of Dr. Aimée Shunney's, whose interview is coming up next week. Before you hear from Aimée, I wanted you all to have a chance to hear from Curt's mouth how profoundly impactful a very simple tool was in healing his chronic pain. That simple tool was an elimination diet. I.e. removing foods that are commonly not tolerated very well by many people, like gluten, dairy, soy, etc, and seeing what changes it might make. Let me back up a moment and describe what I mean a bit more by profoundly impactful. Before Curt tried the elimination diet that Dr. Shunney recommended he was at his worst. While the first signs of what would become a severe pain pattern had begun when he was about eleven years old, with profound headaches and muscle spasms, the worst of it did not begin until his  late thirties. At that time he developed severe neurological pain, to the point where he had to go into the emergency room with sharp, electric, stabbing pain down his left arm. Initially of course the doctors thought he had had a heart attack, but they quickly discovered that that wasn't the case. From there he was admitted and spent a week in the hospital heavily sedated on pain killers in order to try and figure out what this pain pattern was that seemed to have no rhyme or reason to it.

This kicked off a ten year long process of doctors finding things they thought might be the problem. Curt had 7 surgeries. They removed his first rib. They stripped muscles in his neck. A few surgeires were just experimental to go in and scrape nerves and vertebrae of any scar tissue they could find. The general consensus was that there had to be some physical structure that was impinging the brachial plexus nerves. But since the surgeries did absolutely nothing to mitigate the pain, depression set in. In fact, the pain was still getting progressively worse. Any intervals of being pain free were shorter and shorter, and Curt spent months incapacitated in bed. After surgery had clearly failed, he went to pain therapy, where stronger and stronger drugs were tried to quell the pain. At this time he also learned how to meditate, which he credits with keeping him alive through all of this. But the pain killers did nothing other than making him "stupid", in his own words.

At this time he sought out naturopathic medicine because he had tried everything else and was desperate. This brought him to Dr. Shunney. He was at his worst, and had seen all of the best doctors in California. Intially, Dr. Shunney said she didn't know what was going on either, and for his first few months of working with her, nothing really changed. The day his life turned around was when she turned to look at his diet. He began an elimination diet, cutting out gluten, dairy, and cutting way back on sugar. By the end of the first month he was 50% better. In 6 months he was 80% better. Ultimately it was the wheat gluten that was the worst trigger.

Today he is back at work, back to racing his motorcycle, playing his guitar, and playing golf. At the time of our talk, he had just came home from a backpacking trip in Big Sur in which he carried a heavy pack for days.

One of the things I really love in our conversation is that he emphasizes that it isn't over. He still has mild chronic pain symptoms from all the years of stress, the trauma of surgeries, etc, but he's not at all down about that. Instead he radiates gratitude and clearly enjoys working on helping his body to keep getting better, and better and better! Curt says about this part of the process, "You feel so much better that you then have the energy and motivation to take it further."

Even if you know food isn't a culprit for you, hearing the hope and gratitude in Curt's voice will go a long way to helping you  if you are finding your way out of your own chronic pain pattern.

Lastly, I just want to say that we forget to think holistically in ways other than just how we see the musculoskeletal/myofascial interconnection of the body. We assume that food can only be about gut stuff. Curt was not having intestinal symptoms. We assume that if food were the culprit that his symptoms would have resembled something like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but his problem was severe neurological pain. From food. We've got to take everything into consideration when we're trying to get well. So don't forget the old adage, you are what you eat...

Without further ado, here is Curt in his own words:

photo by Martin Linkov

Let Freedom Ring: A Knee Recovery Story

christine_head_shot4aWe're kicking off a new series here at The FFF; The Let Freedom Ring series! I'll be talking to people who have healed from a wide variety of injuries and chronic pain conditions to better spread the hope around (you can get better!!) In this first interview of the series I talk with Yoga Tune Up® teacher Christine Jablonski about her nasty knee injury, the repercussions that it had 15 years after the injury, and how she's managed to not only keep all her own parts (knee replacements are unpleasant people), but to become even more functional and mobile over time. Check out the video to hear her story, and stay tuned to this week's DIY Friday as Christine will be back with some videos on how you can work on your own knee rehabilitation! Below the video is a timeline of what we talk about when.

:59 Christine talks about how her knees were pre-injury and that she was very athletic

1:10 The skiing accident that took her knee out

1:27 What the injury actually did to her knee and the structures that were injured

2:00 The surgery that required a lot more than she or her surgeons originally thought.

2:09 Her rehabilitation regimen as strictly a "strengthen and tighten" protocol in an attempt to keep the knee stable.

2:28 Her surgeons doom and glood proclamation about the future of her knee.

2:50 When the proclamation started to come true.

3:09 The search to get her knee healthy again, and 3 different surgeons opinions.

3:38 Her frustration that none of the surgeons were able to give her any tools to figure out a path to healing (other than surgery)

3:48 Christine’s big breakthrough question: “Why after the accident did I have cartilage and now 15 yrs later I don’t?” and where the answer led her.

3:59 How a purely strengthening and tightening rehabilitation program all those years ago was her downfall many years later.

4:09 Give the joint space to breathe!

4:34 The ignored adductors

4:39 The beginning of finding her own healing journey and what that looked like.

5:00 She’s been able to keep all her own parts! No knee replacement required!

5:19 How she actually has MORE strength and mobility in it now. It’s not just holding steady

5:56 And her back came along for the party too!

6:20 The other therapies besides yoga and Yoga Tune Up that helped her to heal

7:02 Why it takes a village to get better

7:20 The fear that gets wrapped up in pain and the importance of managing that

7:38 What she’s playing with and experimenting with now (Krav Maga, Crossfit, other kinds of movement) in order to move away from the knee fear and making the knee “special”. How those movement experiences have integrated things.

The end!


P.S. You can find Christine at Quiet Corner Body Studio

P.P.S Do you have an amazing story of healing!? I would love to hear it. You can email me at brooke [at] fasciafreedomfighters[dot]com